Posting from school

(Sorry about the weird cut-off entry before. I didn’t realize that Ctrl-S, which I inadvertently hit when going for the shift key, would post the entry.)

I took the train this morning, walked the mile-ish in the searing heat and uphill, spent 10-15 minutes cooling down and almost 2 hours patiently waiting and trying to look productive until my class started…and then I found out that today’s schedule was changed and I don’t have any classes today. But it’s my day to be at school, and I have speech contest coaching at 4 PM, so I have to stay, instead of heading back to town and running errands and working on my elementary school/eikaiwa lessons (all my planning materials are at my desk in the community center, and I have nothing I can plan for my JHS classes). There was a thread at Chiisai Sudachi about what to do to kill time, and spending time online is one of the things you shouldn’t do…but there are no English clubs at this school (only athletic ones and the brass band), I only did my first classes yesterday and have 2 more sets which will both be self-intro sessions, and…yeah. Nothing to do.

So classes are in session–but what they say about September is true; it’s a crazy month. Last week I had no class Monday or Wednesday due to prepping for the sports day that was this past Monday, and last Tuesday I would have had class but Typhoon 14 canceled that. That’s my junior high situation; my elementary schools are still falling into place. I’ve now taught at 4 of my 6–I had introductory lessons last Monday at one school and last Thursday at two, a secondary lesson at one Monday (before heading off to my junior high’s sports day), and another introductory one yesterday. And next week we have Monday and (I think) Friday off, Tuesday’s the sports contest, and because my junior high has a culture festival Saturday and Sunday, they have no school on Tuesday and Wednesday. I was skipping all my classes Tuesday for the speech contest regardless, but I’m only visiting my elementary school next Wednesday now.

The thing about my Tuesday school, though…it’s not far, but it’s a 25-minute drive because 20 minutes of the drive are up a mountain. I’m going to eventually learn how to drive, but this is one school I CANNOT drive to. The BOE and the school know it, so they’ve decided I’m only teaching biweekly lessons there that are 2 class periods long. It’s almost a shame, because the view from the school is breathtaking, and the school itself is beautiful, with really friendly and welcoming staff and really fun students. That isn’t to say that all my schools haven’t been that way, but they really particularly extended the red carpet to me yesterday.

Another ironic thing–the more schools I go to, the more tenants in my apartment building I meet. I met a teacher yesterday who lives next door to me. So now I know the other 3 tenants on my floor (all 4 of us are teachers), 2 tenants on the 3rd floor (1 teacher, 1 high school student), and 1 or 2 tenants on the 2nd floor, and I know of 1 gentleman on the 1st floor. I guess our building has essentially become teachers’ housing–even married teachers will live here during the week and go home to their families during the weekends. And high schools here are almost like colleges–junior high students have to take entrance exams to get into the high school of their choice, and they either have to travel or move to attend said school. It’s not like at home, where I went to the high school 2 miles down the road just because it was the closest one. My brother’s in a math/science magnet program at a slightly further-away school, which is roughly equivalent, since kids from all over the county apply to get into magnet programs like that. But he still lives at home. Here, it’s quite common for students to actually move out.

Generally, I’ve really been enjoying myself. The idea of planning lessons is still really daunting and intimidating, but I’m getting help and trying to figure things out. The hardest things are keeping track of all the schools (each class has made slightly different progress, so while my Monday elementary school knows the full alphabet, yesterday’s didn’t), figuring out what I want to do next, and keeping up my energy level…once my schedule settles down, I’m visiting 2 schools/locations every day. Every class has a different feel to it…I team-taught two 2nd-year junior high classes yesterday (the equivalent of 8th grade in the states…and it’s honestly a big relief to have someone else, namely my Japanese Teacher of English, take the lead), and the first was really quiet and barely smiled at all, but the second was full of energy and really fascinated by my self-introduction and the following lesson.

A couple of funny/embarrassing moments: at one of my Thursday elementary schools last week, I had all the kids do really basic self-intros that they already knew how to do. One girl got through “my name is” and “I am from”…and then she started crying. There were 3 teachers also in the room, though, so one went over to her and coached her through the rest, and then we ended up playing a game that got the kids running and moving around the room, and she had a huge grin on her face, so that was really gratifying.

Before all that, though, they had a Q&A with me, where the students could ask me questions in English (I responded in Japanese to make it easier for them). After they finished, one of the (male) teachers chimed in with, “This is question they’re probably too shy to ask but that I’m sure they’re wondering…do you have a boyfriend?” (Right. I’m sure they were wondering about it. ;P) I ended up getting the question at least 3 times that day, out of nowhere–nobody had ever brought it up earlier and nobody has done so since.

And yesterday, after playing the same running-around game at the mountain-top elementary school, I launched into my lesson…and didn’t realize I forgot to tell the kids to sit down until their teacher chimed in and asked if they could sit. That was kind of bad, but nobody looked particularly upset…the kids just looked relieved to be off their feet, and I apologized about 7 times for it.

We’re also sort of approaching that point where the initial “new shiny feel” is wearing off. The town hasn’t lost any of its warmth, though I’m getting a bit irked from the stares I still receive from the same people I see regularly (my train this morning was the same one I caught yesterday, and at least 2 of the 3 men aboard today were on yesterday, and though they stared openly at me then, they did it again this time), and I’ve honestly gotten a little burned out from the general submissive nature that many women, particularly on TV, exhibit. And anime…oh my god. There are actually a few series that I might consider keeping up with (amazingly, there’s this show about American football that’s not bad, and I saw one yesterday titled “Ja Pan,” as a play on the name Japan, but refering to bread, since the Japanese word for bread is “pan”…there’s also Naruto, which I kept up with at home, and which is coming on tonight!), but most of it is such trite, overdone crap. The absolute worst I’ve seen is “Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch,” a shoujo anime (if the name didn’t give it away) about 3 girls who transform into mermaid princesses decked out in super-frilly dresses who beat enemies by singing at them into their magical karaoke microphones. I don’t have to even understand the dialogue to know what’s going to happen next, because it’s already happened dozens of times in other series.

Past that, though…I’m also realizing that while all the ALTs/CIRs here are my friends essentially by default, I really have only known them for 6-7 weeks, and I don’t know them well at all. I got a bit of a shock last week from one person in particular…things ended up working out generally, but it’s sort of opened my eyes. I’m generally a trusting person, but I need to use common sense and realize that the friendships I’m establishing here just don’t parallel the ones I have back home, or at least not yet. We still have so much more to know about each other. And for me in particular, it’s tough to really build on some of the friendships I started to make with people elsewhere, since I have no way to see them except for taking the trains, and they’re far enough away that I can’t just be spontaneous about it.

But no situation is perfect. This is normal life. I’ve stopped looking at it as a break away from my life and am now seeing it as the next step of my life. I have an apartment and a job and friends here. I buy groceries and pay utilities. It isn’t just a vacation–not anymore.

Though speaking of vacations, I talked to Louise and we want to plan some kind of trip to somewhere in between both of us (she’s north of Tokyo) in a month when we both have a 3-day weekend. It’ll feel so good to see a familiar face, and she herself was saying that she feels a bit lonely there because she has nothing in common with many of the ALTs who are there and they haven’t been extremely welcoming…maybe we can find a Starbucks and hang out and reminisce.

Okay, lunch time…wish me luck in finding something to do that makes me look productive!

Posted this yesterday, but it didn’t go through

I’m thinking that instead of just writing about what I’ve done every single day (which is what my Word-file journal has consisted of lately), I’m just going to directly start posting in here about my actual experiences and thoughts about the country and culture, because that’s what I really want to come away with and hang onto for years to come. And I think that was one of the original aims of this journal that I’ve since overlooked.

In the last month or so, I’ve experienced:

  • my first classes (2 eikaiwas, which are adult conversation classes and fairly casual, and 1 elementary school lesson, which I can reuse for the other 5 schools…no junior high classes till next week)
  • language barrier issues (minoring in Japanese does nothing for you unless you get out there and actively use the language…I wish I’d realized this while I was still in school, but at least I still know enough that I’ve been able to get by just fine)
  • 2 enkais (employee parties, one for my Board of Education staff that welcomed me and said goodbye to my predecessor and that I didn’t have to pay for, and a start-of-term one for the teachers at my junior high school that was a lot more expensive than I realized)
  • half a typhoon (it veered north and we only got a really windy rainstorm last night)
  • some homesickness, and feeling pretty isolated and a bit depressed and out of sorts (weird, because I do have 2 other ALTs in my building, but they have people here they’re already close to and I miss having really close friends near by)
  • Japanese roads (no driving yet, but plenty of riding, which is more than enough to keep me from learning how to drive…though my job’s requiring me to learn now)
  • food difficulties (I’ve eaten egg in some form or another on an almost daily basis…I’m really worried about where my cholesterol’s going to be once my time in Japan is finished)
  • massive use of public transportation (pretty much unheard of in Atlanta, which is a very car-heavy city, but here I take buses and trains everywhere, and I love it!)
  • humidity, humidity, humidity (…enough said)
  • fame and fortune (er, sort of…I’ve been in the town newsletter, and when the Tokushima JETs had orientation several weeks ago, we attended a ningyo/puppetry demonstration and were allowed to play with the puppets afterwards, and someone was there videotaping us–it turns out he’s with the Tokushima news, and they got a close-up of me from below, so I evidently looked extremely tall…I heard about this from my eikaiwa students, fellow teachers and BOE/community center employees, and even my landlord, though I didn’t witness it myself. So fame, but not much fortune, unless you count my getting paychecks)
  • making international reservations (I’m going to India in December! The ticket vouchers and visa paperwork are in the mail)
  • the requisite stomach problems (it figures that Pepto-Bismol was the one thing we didn’t pack–but we found the Japanese alternative)
  • intensely beautiful natural surroundings (mountains all around, and when doing a homestay in Kamiyama we hiked up to a waterfall, and the weather’s either been hot, cloudy, or rainy, but nothing worse, and it was all beautiful)
  • compliments on my chopstick usage
  • a culinary faux pas…you apparently do eat the pits of the tiny bean-like plums that come with your food, and you do not take the pits out of your mouth and put them back on the plate; this one actually elicited a gasp from our host. Nice.
  • impromptu and planned speeches (the planned one was to the 130-odd students and dozen or so faculty at my junior high school; the impromptu ones were at enkais and teacher meetings)
  • repeated issuing of my jikoshoukai (self-introduction)
  • inquiring about vegetarian food, to the point that I have my spiel completely down pat because I do it once every several days
  • that I’m already getting tired of what little Japanese food I actually can eat, and I miss really robust and flavorful foods
  • some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had, courtesy of a restaurant in town with a cook that actually was trained in Italy (of all the places to find an authentic bistro, it’s in our town!)
  • amazing, amazing authentic Sri Lankan food on my birthday
  • a huge outpouring of warmth and support from the other ALTs in my prefecture, specifically on the north side–despite all of us being strangers, 11 of us got together on a Monday night (last Monday, in fact) to celebrate my birthday
  • many, many stares (the vast majority of which dissolve into warm smiles and bows once I greet them, bow, and smile, but they almost always expect me to do it first), and cars slowing down so the drivers can take a look at me
  • the huge impact baseball has had over here (they air every single game involving a west coast team, I swear, but they’re all American League, so I can’t watch the Braves in action)
  • a strong feeling of patriotism for Atlanta, and a strong(er) wave of disdain and disgust for the Bush administration, now that I can view them from non-US-media-influenced eyes
  • an acute helplessness at not being able to help others in my country out during a time of need (I’m of course talking about Hurricane Katrina), and outrage at how poorly the situation was handled and the depths that the people themselves sank to, in and outside the affected areas
  • guilt and helplessness over trying to not seem like I’m slacking off at my job (I have nothing to do…my eikaiwas right now involve minimal planning since I’m trying to get the hang of them, and I only really have to plan one elementary school lesson and then tweak it for all the different schools I go to, and I’m an assistant teacher at my junior high and the teacher doesn’t plan the lessons till the night before)
  • realization that Georgia is indeed a lazy and lax part of the country (Lindsay and Hannah, the other ALTs in my building, are from the Pacific Northwest, and they have very conservation-oriented mentalities, much more so than anybody from home does)
  • realization that not all parts of the US shut down on Sundays the way Georgia does
  • realization that the world really isn’t such a foreign place, and while basic customs might be different, the same warmth and generosity is prevalent everywhere, though especially in smaller and more personal/personalized towns, as compared to big mega-cities like Tokyo or Osaka
  • realizing how much I love and miss my friends and family
  • realizing that whenever I do return to Atlanta, many of those friends won’t be there anymore, and I’ll have to essentially start over, the way I started over when I came here
  • realizing that I’m probably not going to get around to taking my GREs in time to get started on applying for masters programs in the fall of 2006, and staying for an extra year in Japan doesn’t seem like a bad prospect at all right now

…and if I think of anything else, I’ll jot it down and add it here later.